As a writer, I may be biased, but surely one of life’s greatest joys has to be putting pen to paper. It’s such a nice way to pass time, to spend hours letting your words spill out and flow.
And a local woman – with the help of two professional writers – wants to help others explore that same joy this summer through a series of workshops taking place this year and next here in Suffolk.
Alice Pawsey is the owner of Shimpling Park Farm, a large country estate and organic farm located between Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury.
Its idyllic setting makes it the perfect place to get away from it all – and soon after Alice realized it would be the perfect setting for immersive and creative writing workshops led by writers Tom Henry and Shaun McCarthy .
Explaining the inspiration behind it, she says: “Unfortunately a mutual friend of mine and Tom’s passed away, and one of the things he said he never had the confidence to do was to making writing his second career – which we both thought he should have finished. It got us talking about the role of creative works on people’s well-being, and eventually we decided to install something in the space I had here on the farm.
Shimpling Farm is home to a purpose-built barn that hosts a variety of school visits, meetings, conferences, weddings and parties – so something like a writing workshop only made sense.
“We organized one last year, and I participated. I’m not a writer, but I’ve found the time off extremely helpful – and it’s actually improved my own view of movies and TV. It was a very refreshing exercise.
“When people come here, they are far from a highway or a car, and they almost forget the need to go and do something else. A farm can be a liberating place because there are no boundaries, and if the day is good, then you have endless inspiration around you.
And the first workshop was such a success that Alice, Tom and Shaun decided to organize more.
“The two have come together to offer these workshops in pairs, covering all the basic skills suitable for all writers. The rules for story structure are the same as for a script, as is your understanding of why things work and why they don’t,” Alice adds.
The next workshop – which will take place on Saturday May 7 – is called ‘How to Write Compelling Stories’ and describes itself as ‘an intense but enjoyable day for anyone who has ever considered writing a story for the page or a screenplay for the stage or screen, or who wanted to share real events or dramatized experiences.
Co-directed by Tom and Shaun, the two have years of writing and teaching expertise to their names, and look forward to bringing their skills to Suffolk this summer.
Tom is a former press journalist who became a freelancer and then a ghostwriter in the early 2000s. With 25 books to his credit, he has always felt the desire and passion to share his skills with other budding blacksmiths.
“I think teaching is something I’ve always wanted to do. After becoming an author, people started asking me if I would speak to school or college groups about the work I do, and from there I thought I could probably teach some of those skills. So from there, I got into sharing all the things I’ve learned along the way about creative writing, like how to put a good story rather than using narrative and character.
Shaun, meanwhile, comes from a background in stage writing.
“I started life as a poet, but on the advice of Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott, who I worked with, I decided in my early thirties to try writing my first play. And it sucked! But I was lucky enough to come across an actress from the West End who wanted to get involved as a director. Long story short, my first play ended up being performed in the West End, and it started from there, really.
Shaun has since been a professional playwright for stage and radio for 30 years – and spent 15 of those years teaching others the art of stage writing at a number of institutions based in Geneva, Strasbourg and more recently at Oxford.
Explaining what drew the duo to Alice’s Farm, Shaun says, “When Tom and I came up with the idea of doing a series of workshops, we thought, ‘Where would we like to go if we were teaching, and what could inspire our students? ?’
“And when Tom and Alice reconnected, his farmhouse was the perfect place. Yes, you can go to a library or the pub, but how much nicer is it to have access to a place as beautiful as a barn on a farm?”
Tom agrees, adding: “I think the farm is amazing and there are a lot of stories associated with it. They have old letters and farm records, and there’s so much inspiration to be had. I think once you have an interesting place to start, it puts you in that inspiring mindset.
So, who are the workshops for?
Anyone and everyone – regardless of gender, ability or previous experience, according to Alice.
“At the first workshop, we had a nice mix of people who all got a lot out of it. We had someone working on an agriculture book, someone who was three-quarters through his autobiography, and someone who wrote a novel about 20 years ago and picked it up during lockdown. A lot of people who came were curious and had never done anything like this before, but wanted to try something different,” says Alice.
“The goal is basically to get people to think creatively. My view is that we are all born storytellers – we were when we were little. But as we get older, we put that aside, and I think it’s important that we reconnect with that again. I’m a big proponent of doing workshops like this, where people walk away with something they couldn’t have imagined when they arrived at 9am,” adds Tom.
For Shaun, he says it’s all about the process – not the product. “You don’t have to already know how to write a short story – you just have to ask yourself, ‘How do good stories work? Maybe I’ll try to write my own. And at the end of the day, you will undoubtedly feel more empowered and creatively stimulated.
By limiting sessions to around 15 or 16 students, Tom and Shaun find they can spread their time more evenly, helping their students really get to the root of their story.
“We find that with this number, it’s big enough for people to be able to trigger each other. And we think we have a unique offer. With many creative writing workshops, they are often led by a tutor who is usually a specialist. But since there are two of us, we can separate into groups. Some students might want to work on a story, so I’ll go with Tom, and if there are any who want to work on a script, they’ll come with me,” Shaun explains.
The first writing workshop of this year will take place at Shiimpling Park Farm on Saturday May 7 from 9am to 5pm. Later in the year, a news-focused workshop will take place on Saturday, October 8, and a series of four other workshops that have yet to be announced are scheduled to take place in 2023.
Find out more at stageandpage.co.uk